April 12, 2011

Pointe Makes You Stronger!

Yesterday after ballet I tried to do those dreaded fouetté pirouettes again, just me on my own. We did none in class, in fact for the past half year there has hardly been any chance to practice them at all. My current substitute teacher made us fouetté a couple of times this spring, but without any preparatory exercises in the center. So the girls who could turn, did turn. The girls who could not (that would have been me), struggled and failed. "Just fouetté" is not really all that helpful coaching. 

Last fall, I had just managed to work myself up to two fairly neat turns with a nice finish. My teacher gave us lots of good exercises at the barre and in the center. She would tell us/me to go for just one or two fouettés but aim for a clean finish. However, with baby on the way (her, not me!) further practice was delayed. The first time I tried fouetté pirouettes again this spring, absolute disaster. My substitute teacher looked at me like I was half-demented, I guess she expected more? Kind of flattering, for sure, but..

As an adult recreational dancer you do not take the regular route in ballet education. There is rarely a progressive curriculum to follow, such as Canada´s National Ballet School´s Adult Ballet program. I read their class level descriptions (click here), and basic fouetté turns are indeed taught at the highest class level. Usually you can count yourself lucky to find teachers willing to coach, encourage and push you beyond intermediate beginner levels! I´m talking about seriously clean technique, combined with musicality and expression of course. 

I think some, not all, teachers do not see the point in demanding semi-professional class work. I do get it though. Us adults come from very different backgrounds, with various abilities and motivations. But we are united by the desire to dance and to improve in our dancing! Good and observant teachers do recognize the variety of potentials, and push accordingly. I have been very lucky in that aspect. And now I´m on the track of digression, way past my post! I was gonna blog about pointe and that it makes you stronger.. 

So, yesterday I tried those fouettés again, on my own and in spite of all. And guess what.. I could turn! Going round not just once, or twice but eight times! I did a repeat performance of what I had thought a freak accident just a couple of weeks ago. Then I had managed to turn for the entire music, there must have been at least 12 rounds. For me, a huge deal! Which our sub did not even acknowledge (I had already told that I'm a beginner with fouetté turns). I knew they were not clean, so some feedback would have been very much appreciated. It made me really miss my own teacher - she would have screamed me deaf with encouraging praise! After which she would have corrected me and make do them again. Hah! Well, the most important thing for me (ballet-wise) is that I can turn. Everything is not impossible!

But, big BUT, why now? Fouetté pirouettes without practicing? I tell you why - pointe classes with Madame! Mind you, I can barely pull off a semi-clean 1,5 en dehors turn on pointe. But I seriously did not know that learning pointe technique would make me a stronger dancer overall, in soft shoes and on demi-pointe as well. All those relevés, especially the slow killer relevés Madame loves so much (though sometimes she apologizes, with a big grin, about the sh***y, but oh so necessary work she gives us to do). It´s so much harder to hold your turn-out and stretch your knees on pointe. And because you cannot sit in your shoes, you must lift yourself up at all times. Not to mention all that squeezing of inner thigh muscles.. It's ballet boot-camp! But seriously, it's all done in good and encouraging spirit. Makes everyone only want to work that much harder.

So, courtesy of pointe classes and one very discerning teacher I have new-found strength in my feet, calfs, hamstrings, quads, flexors, abductors, abs, butt, back.. My technique has gotten better, including my turn-out and balances. There is still much work to be done, like being snappier with the head spotting. And other stuff which I can't see while turning. But I am turning. And I'm stronger than ever before.


  1. Wow, thanks - I can´t imagine how you found my new post this soon! :)

    Your blog looks cool, but I´m really more into dance-related blogging. But I´ll keep checking your´s out :)

  2. Wow Johanna this post made me want to jump up and down with pom-poms. Congrats on your fouettés! It's always amazing to realize you got stronger without necessarily noticing until that one pinnacle moment. Too bad your sub seems somewhat insufficient!

  3. My pointe teacher encouraged me to learn it not because I want to perform, but because of strength. And the past few years I've gotten much stronger. (And leaner in a few spots. yay!) I keep at it mostly for the rush of doing things right and being six feet tall. :)

    (Now, my fouettes suck, but I do get help with them from the intermediate class. Also the "OK, try sixteen pirouettes to the right, then to the left OR fouettes" at the end of every class helps.)

    Now I just need to get my poor feet healed up so I can put the shoes back on.

  4. Hi Kim! Thanks for the pom-poms :D Love the image..

    Those fouettés really took me by surprise. Especially after causing me so much grief.. ;)Now I can´t wait to do more! Next challenge: doing them neat and clean.

    My sub.. I guess I just don´t quite dance up to her expectations. Like I wrote, my dance education is far from complete, and my background is more of a hotch-potch of French-Cecchetti-RAD-Vaganova.. Whereas this teacher lives strictly by the book of Vaganova Agrippina.

    Also, I do not quite have the natural bod for ballet.. My turn-out is mediocre at best (and working hard to maintain even that). My right leg does not want to developpé above 100 degrees. I can jump a full grand jete only to the left.. And the list goes on.. All this less-than does not depress me, on the contrary! It just makes me work harder (and dream big). So I really don´tt mind not meeting this teacher´s criteria..

    But she does give challenging exercises and some good general advice and corrections. Sometimes you just have to make the most of it, take the good with the.. and enjoy your progress! :)

  5. Hi Candice!

    Wow, you must look stunning on pointe :) Me, I´m barely 5.2 tall.. But your teacher is right, I only wish I had known this before. Well, there´s a time to dance, and there´s a time to pointe.. My two favorite teachers did not offer pointe class before, so maybe the timing is just right after all :)

    Do you do fouettés on pointe? I can´t imagine ever doing anyhting that difficult on pointe. No way. Then again, I´ve said that about other stuff too.. We will see.

    How many pointe hours per week do you take? And if I may ask, what kind of shoes do you wear? Also, I hope your feet are better by now! :)

  6. Six feet tall is en pointe, mind - I'm only 5'6 - but that's tall for ballet, I've learned. My mother in law did pointe until her early 30s - and she was 6' tall and skinny back then - must have looked great.

    No fouette's for me yet - I can pirouette but they're not always pretty. Pique turns are looking good these days though. I do an hour a week of pointe and three of intermediate when I have my schedule together - that's about as much as I can handle. It's good though. In modern dance co. in college I danced about 10/week but that was years and years ago now.

    shoes: grishko maya 4x right now. hard as hell but I can get onto my toes properly.

  7. Not surprised that pointe makes you stronger :) When I started running, I was surprised how much easier my cyclo-commute got! Good job on the fouettes, I was never good at them- maybe an adult perspective will help later when I become more advanced. I'm dead jealous, I'd love to be on pointe again.

  8. J Goerham-Penney, Hi! Nice to see you here again :)

    The fouettés are still a mess, need lots of cleaning-up! Just so glad that they (that is me) are finally turning more than twice. It´s like I´m almost the boss ;)

    I do hope your adultness with help you. And why should it not? Being smarter and wiser makes you that much stronger!

    Why are you not back on pointe? Looks like you want to.. :)

  9. Candice: I usually do the same amount, 3 hours + pointe. I would love to do more, but there´s work and dodgy knee & ankles. I´m fine if I don´t do too much (like I did in my early twenties).

    Dancing in that modern dance co must have been a wonderful experience! Do you have any stories to share? :)

    Pique turns seem easier to me, is it because you pointe onto a straight leg? In pirouettes you have to stretch the leg as you go up and over the box.. Also, the no-friction part throws me every time. Suddenly it´s like ice-skating :)

    Grishkos are killer-hard, no? Every model I tried was too hard for me. My teachers recommend soft-medium shanks for me, and my outer soles are always cut under the arch. It works for me, makes going over the box a lot easier.

  10. Yay, you! And that's a neat link to the National Ballet School's program. I know what you mean about most adult ballet being a bit unstructured. Thankfully I found a couple of places here in San Francisco that do workshops for beginners (terms ranging from a few months to a year all together), which I hope will be a good entrée for me. I start next month. Exciting!

  11. The grishkos are hard, yes - I wear mediums, but they fit and that will do.

    Besides that point I feel safer in hard shoes than soft ones - these are 3/4 shank/sole and pre-arched, so they didn't need too much breaking in.

    Modern was interesting. We had some costumes which were a little much....

  12. Hi Jeff!

    It depends so much on the teacher, but I would love to see more structured ballet ed even for adults! It´s not really a drop-in kind of acitivity.. Adults also benefit from theory outside of the classroom - there could be some kind of "introduction into ballet" -course, complete with a little history, anatomy, classroom etiquette etc..

    I´m really excited for you! Are you preparing for classes in any way? And you should definitely check out "Dave Tries Ballet" and "tights and Tiaras" - guys blogging about ballet! But don´t forget to tell me how it goes with your entreé! :)

  13. Thanks! Just as general self-improvement, over the last couple of months I've started exercising regularly and getting in shape. I work from home and have an adjustable-height desk, so whenever I'm standing at the computer, I do tendus and other stretches, like right now, haha! Oh yes, I've been hungrily reading ballet blogs (like yours!) and keeping up with Dave Tries Ballet and Tights and Tiaras... you all are great!

  14. Jeff, you´ve got it bad - just like the rest of us! I´ve been known to do relevés at the office.. :)

  15. Johanna, I totally agree with you on wishing there were more structured adult ballet programs! While I like the idea of "open" classes, I sometimes feel like "open" classes do a disservice to students at all levels. Often times beginners don't get the attention that they need and the fundamentals get skipped. More advanced students might not get the challenge that they are looking for. Sometimes I feel like, as an adult, we just keep doing the same stuff over and over again without having a logical progression to more complicated stuff.

    And I also love the idea of an intro course! I try to integrate some of that stuff in my beginner class, but there really just isn't enough time! Hmm... ;)

  16. Rori, you are making a very valid point. Ballet training needs to be progressive, with each new year building on previously learned syllabi. While my school does offer a variety of levels, from absolute beginners - basic beg - advanced beg-int - intermediate - advanced, it´s still an open class system.

    When asked, my teacher will direct a student to an appropriate class level. Also, if a student has totally misplaced herself, causing dangerous situations, she/he will be advised accordingly. However, there are many students who decide for themselves and not always correctly. And some teachers who are weary of offending anyone (and losing students).

    As a result you might get a mix of 50% of students being essentially in the wrong class and over their heads, some 25% at the right level, and the rest under-challenged. Difficult for any teacher..

    It would be cool if dance-schools could have some theory intro on their web-sites, maybe even inter-active..? I write another ballet blog in Finnish and I get the cutest questions from young & clueless beginners..

    Oh, and regular after-class Q&As with the teachers!

  17. Wonderful to hear that those magical improvements happen as you go along, and usually when you're NOT concentrating on it :) I'm looking forward to the challenge of pointe and I'm encouraged to hear that it strengthens *everything* so much.

    As an aside, I live in Toronto and though I really like the descriptions of the classes and syllabus that the National Ballet School uses, I have not yet taken any classes there because it is twice as pricey as the other classes that I take :( Maybe at some point I'll indulge myself. If only I had unlimited time and funds...LOL.

  18. Hi Kaija, you live in Toronto and have not taken class at NBS? How dare you? :D Nah, seriously, I would strongly advice you take at least one class there. Of course I know nothing about your current studio nor teachers, and they are probably good too, but..

    REALLY good quality teaching from pros can make a huge difference! I have found this out on more than one occasion. There are those who teach "ballet school" and those who teach you to dance ballet. Also, I would love some inside-feedback. Please, I would so love to take those NSB classes vicariously through you! :)

    Pointe is awesome, yes. But it is also ridiculously hard. While it does strengthen pretty much everything, you need lots of strong technique even before you go on pointe. Give yourself time, enjoy the journey and you will eventually love the challenge as much as I do!

    Thank you for your comment :)

  19. Yes, you are right...and I DO plan to take at least one term's worth of classes there to check it out, but having just got out of grad school and moved to a wonderful but expensive new city, I need to let my budget recover a bit before I can justify the cost. It is on my list for sure and I go to all the National Ballet performances in the meantime :)


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...